BUHARI: Like Salihijo, like Abba.

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read


One of the first files on President Olusegun Obasanjo’s table, when he assumed the leadership of Nigeria for the second time, albeit as a democratically elected President, was the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund(PTF) file.

Many who saw the PTF as nothing but a Sanni Abacha product could not wait for the scrapping of the fund despite its unprecedented successes. Yes, you heard me: successes. They argued, they lobbied, they did all they could do to scuttle what was and still the most audacious infrastructural development initiative by any government in Nigeria.

Like Abba, Salihijo Ahmad, a brilliant quantity surveyor and highly detribalized Nigerian, was the anchor-man of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund. SA, as he was fondly called, was a maverick, witty and hard-working but a no-nonsense administrator who had his job well cut out for him.

With his professional friends, most of whom had occupied and still occupy important positions in government; SA was unarguably the field marshal of the multi-billion naira intervention fund. He was courted by the high and mighty. He was the man of the moment. Knowing SA at that time was seen as the surest way to wealth and success. But not on a platter.

The Afri Projects Consortium (A.P.C), of which he was the torch bearer, was a company put together by professional friends, most of whom had attended the famous Ahmadu Bello University. Architects, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and the likes, and because of their outstanding records in project management, had caught the eyes of Muhammadu Buhari, retired General and Chairman of the multi-sectoral intervention fund.

Although the PTF had an administrative structure in place, it was also empowered to hire consultants to execute the projects as it deemed. This must have informed the appointment of A.P.C as the co-ordinating consultants of the PTF project with Salihijo Ahmad as the defacto contact person even though he was not the Managing Director of the Consortium.

The late Salihijo Ahmad

The recent revelations that Buhari would never be comfortable entrusting responsibility to a stranger must have informed the choice of SA. Call it super delegation or abdication, you can never fault the President when it comes to quality engagements.

Why he abdicates or delegates is not the subject of this write-up; so, I’ll not delve into that but the similarities in the appointments, histories of service and tragic exits of Adamawa-born Salihijo Ahmad and Borno-born Abba Kyari, both brilliant professionals, friends and confidants of President Muhammadu Buhari caught my attention especially at this time when all manner of tributes are pouring for Abba despite the unfortunate gloating and of course, the question of succession as well as the philosophy behind Buhari’s style of leadership.

Although Salihijo and Kyari were friends and close associates of Muhammadu Buhari, they operated on different platforms in governance and at different times in the nation’s history. While Salihijo was the anchor of a sensitive National Intervention Agency, Abba was the Chief of Staff to a President who entrusted him with the affairs of the state in a manner that Abba became one of the most powerful holders of the position in history. Also, they both died in active service.

Unlike Abba’s, Salihijo’s death was very sudden. They were both tragic deaths that we would never wish for anyone. They were both great losses to the country.

But what lessons and tangible things can we infer from the untimely deaths of these two widely acclaimed detribalized gentlemen who were some of the best products to emerge from the Northern part and indeed the entire country? Many, but I will relate to a few here.

Delegation of duties to trusted associates is not a crime but it’s the responsibility of the beneficiary to justify the trust so reposed. Anthea Turner once said: “The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t. Buhari cannot be faulted for delegating power. But every delegator of power must be ready to accept responsibility. In both Simon Kolawole and Godfrey Onyema’s tributes, we saw an Abba who “cared less” about the perception of people about him and his office and how to manage them but for Salihijo, the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund was ” too sensitive not to be protected” hence the introduction of the Community Education Programme which provided an uncommon advocacy platform before President Obasanjo wielded the big stick.

The Community Education Programme, anchored by the veteran editor, now publisher, Kabiru Yusuf and made up of the best brains in the Nigerian Media sector, provided the opportunity to proactively engage Nigerians on the need, importance and sustainability of the programme.

Although, Buhari was not too disposed to this programme at the initial stage, with pressure and conviction, he bowed to reason and in the end; the Community Education Programme became a reference point in development intervention programmes in the land. That programme drew a lot of empathy for the fund and enhanced the image of the Chairman.

So the question is: could Abba have done well for his boss and country by “opening up” or “more accessible” while alive especially on the many personal accusations of corruption, enrichment, e.t.c?

One of the many things many have upbraided the ruling party was its perceived “inability to manage the electoral success of 2015”. Could Abba, who was also a lawyer and journalist have effectually employed his office to provide an advocacy/perception strategy that will protect his boss and sustain the Change Agenda?

Although Presidential Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu defended Abba’s quiet and exclusive style thus: “Abba didn’t want people to come to the villa to corrupt the President. He wanted to be like his boss who is known for integrity”. For me, do you have to shut the doors of the villa to disable corruption?

Salihijo Ahmad is late. So is Abba Kyari. They were favoured. They were lucky. They were brilliant. They were immensely and fiercely loyal and patriotic. They were friends. They both died in similar circumstances – in active service. But they used power differently, because they were different personalities.

While wishing both Aljanah Fiddaus, let’s take away the gains, lessons and expectations of delegations and opportunities…

Tunde IMOLEHIN, Architect, Environmentalist was a Community Education Programme Consultant of the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC)-2015 & 2019.

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